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As the Canadian Business Aviation Association (CBAA) heads toward its 60th anniversary in 2021, there’s never been a more critical time to pull together for the sector’s collective future.
That was the message at CBAA’s annual general meeting, held virtually on June 17. Outgoing chairman Peter Bing said 2020 has been “an unexpectedly challenging year” and thanked association directors, staff and members for supporting each other through the current economic downturn.
A recent CBAA survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of Canadian business aviation operators have seen flying activity reduced by more than 30 per cent in recent months, thanks to COVID-19.
Most of them feel it will take four to six months to get back to pre-pandemic flying hours, although the majority of respondents do see a sustained and increasing role for business aviation in the future.
Bing, who is also chief pilot at Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc., said during a flight ops leadership panel that the pandemic has presented an opportunity to help move product instead of passengers. It has also influenced fleet considerations.
“We could address some of the needs of the stores, principally out west. We are also analyzing our current fleet and we’re now considering a larger aircraft, for the size of the cabin, so that social distancing may be accommodated in a better way than with our current aircraft.”
Doug Shields, director of aviation at Shaw Communications of Calgary, said the company’s flight activity has declined over the last three months, especially since most of its flying is international. However, “any company that saw the value of an aircraft prior to COVID, that isn’t changing. Once the border opens, there is an appetite to get back to work. But it’s too early to tell what the impact will be on our annual flying hours.”
Randy Horsley of the Mark Anthony Group said paperwork and planning have become even more important during the pandemic. He said that as a private operator, the company is “taking the lead to ensure passenger comfort level and mitigations on the aircraft for cleanliness,” and added he doesn’t expect that will slow down any time soon.
With the commercial airlines wading through at least a two-year downturn, incoming CBAA chair and AirSprint president James Elian said the corresponding reductions in destinations, non-stop flying and frequency will all impact business travellers in particular. He predicted an increase in bizav bookings, adding that AirSprint client feedback indicates people want to get flying as soon as quarantine restrictions are lifted.
In his new role as board chair, Elian is ready to promote the bizav sector.
“Communicating with key influential people in government and media to showcase the benefits of business aviation is crucial,” he commented. “The CBAA must be the voice of business aviation. We are more than ready for the work to come with a detailed, yet practical, business plan to guide us through the next months.”
Merlin Preuss, CBAA’s VP of government and regulatory affairs, said the biggest issue confronting business aviation right now is that “officials are focused on scheduled commercial operations.” He said the association is asking for the same consideration for on-demand and private aviation operations. He also cited communication difficulties between the aviation regulator and provincial/territorial health authorities as a challenge to overcome in the pursuit of clear and consistent post-pandemic policies and procedures.
Anthony Norejko, CBAA president and CEO, added that trends indicate the industry has moved into a “pent-up demand phase” and business aviation will play an important role in facilitating future travel.